By Martin Halpern
Between September 30 and October 8, 2023, peace activists from over thirty countries are coming together to support “an immediate ceasefire and peace negotiations” to end the Ukraine War. In joining these advocates, I continue on a path I began over sixty years ago.
In October 1962, as the Cuban missile crisis was about to unfold, I wrote an op ed for my high school newspaper calling for compromise in negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union to achieve a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere. As it happened, my essay appeared only after the public – including my fellow students and I — became aware that nuclear war between our two countries might be imminent. Despite the danger, I was alone in my views when members of the Arista honor society chatted about the crisis in an after-school meeting. The dominant anti-Soviet cold war narrative made advocacy of compromise and negotiations, even in the face of a nuclear Armageddon, unthinkable to most. Thankfully, President John Kennedy and Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev reached a negotiated compromise of their disagreement and averted nuclear war.
Most residents of the U.S., of nations allied with the U.S. in Europe and elsewhere, are once again trapped in a cold war narrative about the Ukraine War; negotiations are once again unthinkable.
As during the first cold war, the mainstream media and one’s neighbors, friends, and family members all seem to be on the same page. Although we in the United States tend to think of ourselves as independent, even individualistic people, most of us tend to conform to societal expectations. Media workers follow the lead of the government and the rest of us are not so different from those in Japan who believe the proverb that “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
How can I convince you to join in advocating a ceasefire and negotiations to end the Ukraine War? In 1963 I was among the few calling for an end to U.S. intervention in Vietnam; eventually the majority saw this was the sane course. In 1982, in response to President Reagan’s opposition to negotiations with the Soviet Union over nuclear weapons, I was in New York with over a million others to call for a nuclear freeze. President Reagan soon reversed course and joined the Soviet Union in removing intermediate nuclear missiles from Europe. In February 2003, I was among ten million people throughout the world joining demonstrations to oppose the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq. A month later, I spoke before the city council in my small Arkansas town and asked it to join in calling for negotiations rather than war against Iraq. The war was not prevented but most Americans by 2006 agreed the war was wrong.
Just because events have proved peace advocates right again and again over the last sixty years doesn’t mean we are right today. But consider these points:
· Escalation of the Ukraine War makes the risk of nuclear war more likely. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reports that “The Doomsday Clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight—the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been.”
· As the International Summit for Peace in Ukraine notes “Hundreds of thousands have been killed and wounded and millions have been displaced and traumatized. Cities and villages across Ukraine and the natural environment have been shattered.”
· The war has had a serious negative economic impact on many countries, and particularly on poor people.
· The billions spent by the U.S. on the war makes addressing social and economic problems at home more difficult.
· Leaders of countries not allied with the U.S., particularly those in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, have spoken out for a negotiated end to the conflict.
· Although little reported in the U.S. media, the United Nations declared that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force on 22 January 2021. Thus far 93 nations have signed the treaty. There is an urgent need for the nuclear states to join this treaty and to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The continuing conflict in Ukraine distracts from that goal.
· The war empowers the fossil fuels and armaments industries diverts the world from the need to take immediate action to end the impending catastrophic effects of global warming.
Please look critically at the circumstances we face today and join us in taking action to produce a ceasefire and negotiation to end the war in Ukraine.
Martin Halpern is a member of Massachusetts Peace Action and Professor of History Emeritus, Henderson State University. He is the author UAW Politics in the Cold War Era and Unions, Radicals and Democratic Presidents: Seeking Social Change in the Twentieth Century. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.